Employers need to act proactively on mental illness, says Morneau Shepell head

by David Keelaghan29 Nov 2017
Advocates for mental health awareness gathered in Toronto yesterday to honour the Canadians really making a difference on this issue. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) launched Difference Makers: 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health earlier this year, and Ontario’s representatives were celebrated at a special ceremony at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Present was Stephen Liptrap, president and chief-executive officer of Morneau Shepell, and a national committee member of 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health.

As head of Canada’s largest human resources operation, he has observed progression on this issue, but concedes that a lot more needs to be done.

“In the last five years, we have seen a sea-change in terms of people being willing to come forward and tell their stories,” he says. “It can be high-profile athletes talking about depression, stress and anxiety being debilitating; it can be actors and actresses; or it can be average Canadians. I do think we are a lot more open now as a society to say that mental health is an issue.”

Dealing with the problem means identifying mental illness in people that are struggling and reacting accordingly. The appropriate reaction has changed over the years, but the silence and awkwardness that characterized the past has largely gone.

“At Morneau Shepell, we are being asked to go into workplaces and train managers on what to look for with mental health issues and how to deal with them,” says Liptrap.  “We are going in the right direction, but this is just dipping our toe in the water on the things that need to be done.”

According to Liptrap, insurers are among the more progressive companies in corporate Canada. This is an issue that directly affects their business, and with disability payments such a huge expense, firms are deciding to act proactively.

“On a regular basis we see that insurers in Canada are recommending that organisations think about employee and family assistance in benefit programs,” he says. “That’s 24/7 ability for employees to reach out and chat with mental health professionals and get the support they need.”

He adds: “A number of organisations are significantly increasing the benefits they put aside for psychological help for employees. That’s coming from the employers, but also the insurance industry, knowing that if you free dollars up front, you can substantially save on the backend with people off of short- and long-term disability.”

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